Wildlife
10:47 am
Wed March 6, 2013

Why Are Thousands Of Snow Geese In St. Charles And Lincoln Counties This Year?

Snow geese come in two colors or "morphs:" white and "blue."
Credit Missouri Department of Conservation

If you live or spend time in St. Charles or Lincoln Counties, you’ve probably noticed an unusual number of snow geese around. The birds have been congregating near the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers — estimates of their numbers run as high as 20,000.

They normally pass through western Missouri on their migration from the Gulf Coast to their Arctic nesting grounds. But Missouri Department of Conservation wildlife biologist John Vogel says this year, heavy snowfall made them detour farther east in search of food.

He says snow geese look very different from the Canada geese we typically see in our area. They’re smaller, and most are white with black wing tips. “But there’s also a blue phase, or a blue morph, and it’s probably best-described as a slate blue colored goose,” Vogel says. “So you’ll see them in mixed flocks, and it’s the same species, but there’s just two different color phases that we’re seeing.”

Vogel says you’ll probably hear the snow geese before you see them.

Listen to this recording of a large flock of snow geese (courtesy of gsmoutdoors.com).

He says if the weather is clear, they’ll sometimes migrate at night. “And if there’s no wind blowing you can stand outside and you’ll hear flocks. And on a good flight day, you can just see flock after flock of snow geese migrating north, it’s a really neat phenomenon to watch.”

Here's a video of the annual snow goose migration filmed in New York's Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge and produced by Cornell Lab of Ornithology photographer Gerrit Vyn.

Vogel says if you want to see the snow geese around here, a good option would be to drive along Highway 79 north of St. Charles. But you’ll need to hurry — with temperatures expected to warm up at the end of the week, Vogel thinks the birds won’t stay in our area much longer.

Follow Véronique LaCapra on Twitter: @KWMUScience